Sunday, January 17, 2010

What a Weekend!

Wow, was that fun! The 25th annual mid-winter gathering of Cub diehards at the Hilton and Towers took place from Friday night until this morning.

This was my second year at the "Unofficial Opening Day", and it was just flat out amazing. On this post, I will simply share some of my experiences from Saturday and Sunday (I blogged on Day 1 on Friday night, but unfortunately did not get the chance to get a post up last night). In addition, I will fill you in on some of the big news of the weekend. The rest of the information I learned at the sessions will be posted throughout the week.

One of the most written and blogged about bits of news this weekend was the fact that former NL Rookie of the Year Geovany Soto lost a stunning 40 pounds this winter. He is expected to bounce back after a disappointing sophomore campaign. Stud pitcher Carlos Zambrano also dropped significant weight.

Saturday morning, I woke up early, got a muffin down at the breakfast line, and then headed down to the grand ballroom for the "Meet the Ricketts" session. This hour was Cubs fans first chance to address the new owners of their favorite ballclub. Tom, Laura, Todd, and Pete all answered most of the questions directly and did a great job. The Ricketts made it clear that they would like Wrigley Field to host to 2014 All Star game, but that decision will fall upon the shoulders of Major League Baseball.

The second session of the day was "Meet Cubs Baseball Management". This yearly segment always gives us a chance to get real insight to the team. Lou Piniella revealed that most likely his team will look like this defensively on Opening Day:
LF Soriano
CF Byrd
RF Kosuke
1B Lee
2B Baker or Fontenot
3B Ramirez
SS Theriot
C Soto

Piniella also announced this weekend that Marlon Byrd will receive a good look in the 5th spot in the lineup behind Lee and Ramirez. As of now, Koske and Theriot will be 1 and 2 in the Cub batting order, but Piniella has yet to decide which one will lead off.

I continued to bounce around at 11, when I hit my 3rd different ballroom in as many hours. The "Call to the 'Pen" sessions was all about what it's like to be a major league reliever. Former Cub lefty and current broadcaster Dave Otto chatted with relievers Tom Gorzelanny, John Grabow, Jeff Samardzija, Sean Marshall, and Carlos Marmol. The lefty dominated session (4 of 6 counting Otto), was of course a little quirky, and included some great info and a lot of fun. The room was a little smaller for this session, but afterwards the workers did a great job organization a line for autographs instead of allowing the usual stampede.

After learning about life in the 'pen, I travelled to the already-in-progress "Leaders in the Clubhouse". During this Question and Answer, former World Series winning manager (2001 was mentioned several times this weekend by him by the way) Bob Brenly talked with Sweet Lou and his full coaching staff. Cub fans (who were allowed to ask questions for at least a half an hour at most sessions) made it clear that they (we) would welcome Piniella back for a 4th season in 2011. Lou is still undecided, and wants to remain focused on 2010, however he did mention that there were several coaches on his staff who would make good successors (he didn't name names, but maybe Alan, Mike Quade, and DeJesus).

Next I took a break from sessions to stand in line for my Carlos Zambrano autograph, which I won via scratch off. Big Z told me that he plans on winning 20 games this year!

As soon as the long line for Z was over, I returned to the Grand Ballroom for the "Cubs Jeopardy" session, which was my personal favorite of the weekend. Baseball trivia buff (and voice of the Cubs on WGN Radio) Pat Hughes served as host, with Dave Otto filling the role of judge. This year they change things up and pitted the pitchers against the position players, instead of the usual era VS era matchup. Jeff Baker, Micah Hoffpauir, Jay Johnstone, and Gary Matthews battled Tim Stoddard, Randy Wells, John Grabow, and Milton Pappas. Both team bet all their points in the final jeopardy, and both teams got the question correct (who was the 2009 World Series MVP?). Therefore, the pitchers, who led prior to the final jeopardy, took home the win. Hughes and Otto do a great job at hosting this session each year.

The final session of the day was the "For Kids Only Press Conference". Sam Fuld, Tyler Colvin, Marlon Byrd, Ted Lilly, and Sean Marshall field questions from the youngsters which ranged from "What's your favorite candy bar?" to "Did you like Milton Bradley?" Unexpectedly, this session ended up providing some good info, as a lot of the kids asked great questions. All five of the guys on the pannel said that they would prefer Spring Training to remain in Mesa. Lilly and Byrd have both trained in Florida and Arizona, and both prefer the dessert.

Saturday morning provided a few final sessions- the last one regarding the Cubs farm system. I will recap those later in the week.

The last thing I want to point out it that I didn't stand in a single autograph line the entire weekend (besides Zambrano, who was a lottery auto) and I still got signatures from Bobby Dernier, Lou Piniella, Marlon Byrd, Ted Lilly, Sean Marshall, Carlos Marmol, Jeff Samardzija, Micah Hoffpauir, John Grabow, Dave Otto, Randy Wells, Keith Moreland, Ryan Dempster, Andrew Cashner, Jay Johnstone, Crane Kenney, Pat Hughes, Tom Ricketts, Len Kasper, Ivan DeJesus, Koyie Hill, Jeff Baker, Tim Stoddard, Jim Aducci, and Tom Gorzelanny. The point is, you do not have to wait in line for hours for autographs, you will see them around the hotel and after sessions.

I will continue blogging about the Cubs Convention all week, along with keeping you posted on Everything Cubs as always!

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